The body of scientific literature reports only one case of a coconut oil allergy, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI). Therefore, although the possibility of such allergies can't be ruled out, they are extremely unlikely to occur.
Johns Hopkins Medicine says an allergic response starts in the immune system, when it overreacts to a harmless substance, referred to as an allergen, by producing antibodies to attack it. Each antibody, called immunoglobulin E, is specific to the allergen, in this case, coconut. Upon the next exposure to coconut, an allergic reaction ensues, which may manifest in an array of symptoms.
Coconut Oil Allergy
First of all, coconuts are classified as a fruit rather than a tree nut, states the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). However, the Food and Drug Administration identified coconuts as tree nuts in October of 2006.
Doctors typically don't exclude coconuts from the diet of a person with a tree nut allergy, asserts Food Allergy Research & Education. While few cases of an allergic reaction to coconuts have been reported, most of them have occurred in people who didn't have tree nut allergies. Although it's rare that someone with a such a sensitivity would have a cross allergenicity to coconuts, it could happen, says the AAAAI.
The majority of people with allergies to tree nuts can safely eat coconuts. Nonetheless, anyone with a sensitivity to this food should consult an allergist before adding coconut to the diet.
If someone has a coconut allergy, does it mean he also has a coconut oil allergy? The AAAAI says this is possible even though allergies to the oil are rarer than allergies to the fruit.
An October 2017 study published in Children points out that, in spite of the low incidence of coconut allergies, the reactions were severe and involved the entire system. In fact, all the reported cases manifested as anaphylactic reactions, which are life-threatening events.
The authors reported on a case where a child suddenly manifested an allergy to coconuts after showing no signs of a sensitivity to it previously. Based on the case, it's possible for an allergy to develop after a history of tolerance to the food.
Tree Nut Allergy
Tree nuts include pecans, almonds, cashews, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, macadamia nuts and Brazil nuts. Peanuts don't fall into this category because they're legumes. An allergy to tree nuts is one of the most common food sensitivities, states FARE. Even ingesting very small amounts of tree nuts can trigger anaphylaxis. Anyone with an allergy to nuts should keep an epinephrine auto-injector on hand at all times, as this drug is the first-line treatment for a dangerous allergic reaction.
Symptoms of a tree nut allergy include nausea; vomiting; abdominal pain; diarrhea; nasal congestion; shortness of breath; difficulty swallowing; and itching of the nose, eyes, skin and mouth. The ACAAI says that some of these signs are indicative of an anaphylactic reaction, but this response may also include hives, swelling, dizziness, low blood pressure, fainting, rapid heartbeat, tightness of the throat and cardiac arrest. If you experience these symptoms, go to an emergency room.
Anyone with tree nut allergies should be aware that nuts can be found in unexpected food products such as pralines, cereals, cookies, barbecue sauces and marinades. When shopping at the supermarket, get in the habit of reading labels.
Coconut Oil Benefits
Some may wonder if coconut oil causes acne, but it actually may be beneficial for the skin disorder. An August 2009 study in Biomaterials isn't recent research, but it's important to mention because of the results.
Scientists found that the oil's content of lauric acid, which has antimicrobial activity, demonstrated a strong bacteria-killing action against some of the microbes that cause acne. Lauric acid has poor water solubility, posing a drawback to treatment, but when the research team put it in a formulation that addressed the problem, it proved to be an effective treatment.
Studies show that coconut oil displays antifungal activity that can make it of value for treating Candida albicans infections. A March 2016 study published in Scientifica compared the antifungal properties of coconut oil to those of the antifungal drug ketoconazole. Despite the fact that the study involved test tubes rather than humans, the results merit notice because they showed coconut oil's efficacy was roughly equal to that of the medication.
Coconut's wellness advantages may extend to enhancing mental functions. In a March 2017 clinical trial published in Nutricion Hospitalaria, researchers tested the effects of coconut oil on patients with Alzheimer's disease. Half of the 44 participants in the clinical trial were administered 40 milliliters (less than 3 tablespoons) of coconut oil per day in two doses. The individuals were tested on cognitive skills before and after taking the oil. Findings indicated that the oil boosted cognition.
Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health recommends coconut oil as a moisturizer for the hair and skin. For a treatment to relieve hair dryness, apply a small quantity of oil to the hair and leave it in for a while before shampooing. Gently massage the oil into the skin to alleviate dryness.
Shopping and Use Guidelines
When shopping for coconut oil, you'll find several varieties. There include virgin or extra virgin, terms used interchangeably, and refined, which refers to oil that is bleached, deodorized and sometimes treated with solvents. Another coconut oil type is partially hydrogenated, a term denoting a process that extends shelf life but creates harmful trans fat. For maximum nutrient content, choose the virgin or extra virgin oil.
In the August 2009 study featured in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, researchers compared the antioxidant action of virgin coconut oil and the refined oil. Results showed the virgin oil had a higher content of healthful phenolic compounds and more robust antioxidant properties.
Coconut oil deteriorates faster when exposed to heat and light, so store it in a cool, dark place or in the refrigerator. Virgin oil will stay good for two to three years if stored correctly. A yellow tinge or off odor will alert you to spoilage.
Because coconut oil is high in saturated fat, it's best to limit your daily intake to less than 2 tablespoons per day. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans advocates limiting the consumption of saturated fat to 10 percent of the daily calorie intake. In a 2,000-calorie diet, this amount would be 21 grams, which falls under the 24 grams contained in 2 tablespoons of coconut oil.
- American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology: "Potential to React to Coconut If One Is Allergic to Tree Nuts"
- American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology: "Tree Nut Allergy"
- Food and Drug Administration: "Guidance for Industry: Questions and Answers Regarding Food Allergens (Edition 4)"
- Food Allergy Research & Education: "Tree Nut Allergy"
- Children: "Coconut Allergy Revisited"
- Biomaterials: "The Antimicrobial Activity of Liposomal Lauric Acids Against Propionibacterium Acnes"
- Scientifica: "Comparison of Antimicrobial Activity of Chlorhexidine, Coconut Oil, Probiotics, and Ketoconazole on Candida Albicans Isolated in Children With Early Childhood Caries: An in Vitro Study"
- Nutricion Hospitalaria: "How Does Coconut Oil Affect Cognitive Performance in Alzheimer Patients?"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Coconut Oil"
- International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition: "Antioxidant Capacity and Phenolic Acids of Virgin Coconut Oil"
- Health.gov: "Dietary Guidelines Executive Summary, 2015-2020"
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Allergies and the Immune System"